Kimagure Orange Road and Secondhand Nostalgia

Kimagure Orange Road has a manga release in progress; the series is not available for streaming, but is set for Blu-ray release in the near future.

Nostalgia is such a weird idea. Parts of it are clearly tied to good memories of your own past, sure – it’s the whole reason why people have comfort foods and hold onto familiar objects from their childhood like stuffed animals. Then there’s a huge aspect of it that’s not even tied to anything specific – even something similar to what we know can draw out that craved feeling of comfort.

And, if you hit a sweet spot, you can get the same impression off something that’s by all means outside of your own experience.

I’ve had that relationship with Kimagure Orange Road for a while now. I can’t remember exactly how I had it recommended, but in all likelihood it was by somebody about twenty years my senior, citing it as a personal favorite and evidence that shows just ain’t built the way they used to be.

Not going to touch whether that brand of argument is hogwash by default, especially as I’ve been slightly guilty of it, myself.

But watching it, I really got his point – a huge portion of the well-trodden tropes we see all the time in rom-dram-coms today are on display here, from the male lead’s wishy-washy behavior to the female lead’s hot-and-cold temperament to the rotation of episodic scenarios that play out to keep the two at arm’s length. Even the side characters fit into recognizable roles.

All of today’s story conventions, just in a form that has some age to it.

Enough age, in fact, that the fourth chapter is partly set at a disco – a dying concept before I was even born. Granted, there’s probably some culture difference there that let discos (or, at least, colloquial the use of the word) hang on longer than in the Americas, but you get the point – this thing was written in the mid 1980s.

Yeah, this was back in the days where your best avenue to these things was still mail-order grey-market VHS tapes, which I’m perfectly happy not to have lived through.

Back when 240p was the default resolution.

That isn’t to say, of course, that everything is distilled down to something cleaner or more plot-functional by virtue of being older. In fact, it can move so fast at times that much of the cruft is fairly easy to point out. For instance, there are light but persistent supernatural elements here that never come into focus nor have much of a direct bearing the relationships that the show is actually focused on, acting more as a contrivance in case the story needs to bend the rules a bit to make itself work out.

It goes without saying for something made in the ’80s, but it comes across pretty clumsily at times, too – characters can easily walk back very unsubtle slips of the tongue, the protagonist gets away with some pretty blatant show-off-i-ness by virtue of being right by default, and there are certain moments played off casually that are powered by laser-guided convenience.

There’s a lot of that going around in general – plenty of western animation properties from the same time period are seeing “revival” series at the moment, from Voltron to Transformers to (technically) Castlevania to a grab-bag parade of just about everything in Ready Player One. All things that I missed in their original generally-cheesy incarnations by a solid decade at a minimum.

And yet they all have some level of appeal to them that’s not that far off of genuine nostalgia. I can owe some of Kimagure Orange Road‘s portion of that perhaps to Dragon Ball – king of the mountain when I was the right age for it, but made around the same time, creating some affinity for late-’80s animation by default.

But so much else of it feels like an extension of what actually-nostalgic properties actually are: a lot of the same variety of stories we have nowadays, less a few decades of cultural development and the associated changes in how we present our media. It’s less about the thing itself, and more about seeing it relative to the present – imagining the past given what we choose to remember of it.

So, taking it a decade past what I already know is, in a way, Nostlgia Plus.

It’s also entirely made-up in the case of my own perspective on this show, which makes this whole assertion a bit silly. All of my limited actual knowledge about when this thing came out is secondhand at best, and primarily through the heavily-filtered lens of other media that came out around the same time.

Maybe that just makes the feeling more powerful. Free of actual context, I can basically imagine the 1980s to be whatever I want within reason. It’s not so far off to feel like total fiction as the Victorian era is rapidly approaching, but it’s in this little space where I know just enough to have a heavily-romanticized perception of it.

Which absolutely isn’t a useful perspective in the real world. But it does soften out the rough edges on a lot of things to come out of that time. And, hey, if a provably-false idea helps keep an old manga from bordering on unintended campiness? I don’t mind keeping that white lie floating around in my imagination.

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